Thursday, February 4, 2021

The story behind your favorite team’s highest PIM game

Penalty minutes are a fascinating stat. They’re supposed to be a bad thing, signifying that you’ve broken the rules and were punished for it. In any other sport, constant fouls and penalties might get you nailed to the bench. But for much of hockey history, the PIM has been viewed as a positive. Rack up a lot of penalties, the thinking went, and it showed you couldn’t be pushed around.

That approach to the game has been shifting in recent years, as the game moves away from glorifying violence in service of The Code. In fact, it’s really hard to overstate just how much the NHL has changed in the last decade or two. To a fan who only started watching recently, the penalty-filled contests from the past must seem like a different sport.

But it happened. So today, let’s look back on some of that history, with a simple question: What’s the story behind your favorite team’s highest single-game PIM total? How long ago did it happen, who was involved, what were the repercussions, and just how crazy did things get?

For some of you, this may be a chance to revisit some games from an era that you miss. For others, it will be a reminder of just how far we’ve come, and how ridiculous the sport used to be. In either case, I hope you’ll learn something about your team’s history. Take a moment to see if you can guess which game will show up for your team, then let’s see if you’re right. (All game data is pulled from Hockey Reference)

Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (Anaheim Ducks): 117 PIM vs. Dallas, March 13, 1998

We’ll start with a good example of a game that wasn’t all that long ago but feels like it’s from an entirely different era. Back in the 1990s, guys like Craig Ludwig could take brutal runs at guys like Teemu Selanne for the simple crime of being too good. And when they did, it wasn’t hard to see how the rest of the game might go.

Ludwig basically accuses Selanne of faking an injury in that clip, and it’s true that the Finnish star didn’t miss any games. But that leaping elbow is brutal. Ludwig was suspended for two games; today it would be closer to 20. The Ducks took matters into their own hands, with tough guys Dave Karpa, Warren Rychel and Brent Severyn leading the way.

Arizona Coyotes: 94 PIM vs. Vancouver, January 21, 1998

We’re sticking with Coyotes history here, although if you extend back to the Jets you can find five games with a higher total. This one didn’t feature any major incidents but did have several spirited scraps, including this first-period bout between Scott Walker and Michel Petit. A lopsided score didn’t help — that will be a theme on this list — as the Coyotes ran away with a 6-1 win. Eight different players received fighting majors by the time it was over, including Trevor Linden, but Donald Brashear didn’t draw any of them. (He was kicked out early, and finished his night with 22 PIM in just two minutes of ice time.)

Boston Bruins: 195 PIM vs. Minnesota North Stars, February 26, 1981

The Bruins have had some of the sport’s best rivalries over the years, with everyone from the Habs to the Leafs to the Penguins to the Whalers. So it’s a bit of a surprise to see the North Stars show up as the opponent here, thanks to a fight-filled first period between two teams that were headed towards a potential playoff matchup and wanted to set the tone. Things got started early, with a line brawl seven seconds in that saw Minnesota’s Steve Payne rack up 29 minutes on his own. Things escalated from there, with a full-scale brawl nine minutes into the game that spilled into the benches and hallways, and had local law enforcement getting involved.

Things settled down after that, but the two teams set an NHL record for penalties in a period.

Buffalo Sabres: 192 PIM vs. Minnesota North Stars, March 31, 1992

The 1991-92 Sabres were enforcer-laden even by NHL standards of the era, featuring three players with 300-plus PIM and four more who hit triple-digits. Put it this way: The second most penalized game in Sabres history came less than two weeks after this one. And we’ll meet that one later.

The record-setting game against the North Stars started off scrappy but turned into something else late in the first when Buffalo’s Donald Audette was stretchered off after getting tangled with Minnesota’s Jim Johnson. It wasn’t an outrageously dirty hit, but the Sabres went looking for payback, and things blew up from there. The big line brawl came late in the second, and the exclamation mark came when Johnson dropped the gloves again with seven seconds left.

“He ran like a cheap pair of nylons.” Yeah, the early 90s was a very different time for the NHL.

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